Choirmaster Gareth Malone reveals how, against all the odds, he's uniting a nation in lockdown through the power of music...
As we continue to live in times of uncertainty, people are looking for something to bring a little joy and positivity to their lives. In his new three-part series The Choir: Singing for Britain, popular choirmaster Gareth Malone is on a mission to do just that, as he attempts to unite the country through the power of music.
Since lockdown began, Gareth has been inspiring thousands to sing along from the safety of their sofas via his daily online Home Chorus sessions on YouTube.
“I knew there would be lots of people who couldn’t get to choir practice but, as I have a studio at the bottom of my garden, I thought I’d bring it to them,” he says. “Although, suddenly being watched by thousands of people on YouTube every afternoon has been very weird.”
The Choir: Singing for Britain sees Military Wives star Gareth taking things one step further as he brings members of the Home Chorus together from across Britain to write and perform original songs that represent how they’re feeling during this time of crisis.
In each episode, Gareth meets some remarkable people, from frontline NHS doctors and nurses to key workers like refuse collectors and teachers, to those having to shield – they all have a story to tell and Gareth wants them to do that through song.
But faced with the array of practical and technical challenges that come with lockdown and social distancing, holding virtual rehearsals and song-writing sessions won’t be easy. Will he be able to get everyone singing in perfect harmony?
We chatted to Gareth Malone, 44, to find out…
What did you want to achieve with this show?
“This series is not about putting together a choir; it’s really about delving into the individual stories of people from within my Home Chorus. So, in the first episode, those are frontline NHS workers, episode two features key workers and the final episode involves those who are self-isolating due to underlying health issues. It’s about those individuals writing and singing songs about their own situation.”
Who are some of the people we meet across the three-part series?
“In this week’s first episode we meet William, who’s really been going through it in his work on the frontline at a care home. William has the most incredible voice; he’s like Russell Watson, Paul Potts and Andrea Bocelli all mixed together. In the second episode, we meet Mike, Slough’s No.1 rapping bin man!”
How have you been able to put the show together while observing social distancing guidelines? What’s been the biggest challenge?
“Myself, all of the crew and our singers are working separately in isolation. As well as presenting, I’m also the cameraman and I’m filming on a camera-phone that shoots broadcast quality video. So I’m moving the camera around myself and communicating with the director, who’s elsewhere, and I’ve also got a sound guy, who’s beavering away in his own garage. The technical challenges are frustrating but the biggest challenge for me has been emotionally…”
Why is that?
“Because, like these people, I too am in lockdown. I too have parents who are older and who are having to self-isolate. I too know people who are at risk of catching Covid-19. It’s been very challenging trying to lift other people’s spirits, when you’re thinking: ‘Actually, my own spirits are not that great today!’ So there have been moments of real emotion, definitely.”
How have you ramped up technology to make sure your vocalists are singing in perfect harmony?
“Well, you can’t get two people singing at the same time in different places because of the time delay. But I have some hi-tech equipment that allows me to play music from my end, which goes down the internet and, when it comes back to me, people are in sync because this particular piece of kit works out what the delay is between the various points. So it means I can hear multiple voices all singing at the same time. The most I’ve managed to get singing together so far is about six people, which feels like a miracle!”
Why was it important to write original songs?
“It’s important because I don’t know what other songs would do justice to this situation. These people might be nurses or care home workers but lots of them already write songs, so the song-writing process has largely been them coming up with lyrics with me helping them tell their story. So I’ll ask them how they’re surviving lockdown and what the music might sound like and, within 10 minutes, we have the beginnings of a song.”
What have you learned from making this series?
“That there is a need in people to make music; it really seems to have been the one thing everyone has turned to during this difficult time. Songs like Here’s Comes The Sun by George Harrison and Stand By Me by Ben E King always make me smile. Having a student nurse on a Covid-19 ward exploring what they’re going through during this crisis and seeing that coming out through music is very powerful.”
The Choir: Singing For Britain – fronted by Gareth Malone – airs on Tuesday June 23 at 9pm on BBC2.